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Night Vision vs. Thermal: Which Scope is Better to Use?

Night Vision vs Thermal

Is it possible to get better scopes whenever I hunt for my desired game?

Yes, you can!

Knowing and understanding the different scopes available can help improve your hunt, especially at night.

When I decided to try night hunting, I was presented with two scope options; night vision and thermal imaging.

After trying both, one is definitely better than the other.

For today, let’s answer this age-old question, Night Vision vs Thermal; which is better?

What is a Night Vision Scope?

Night vision scope

Night vision devices have been around since the 1940s. They’re like your vintage wine.

Though many decades have passed, night vision technology has come a long way to becoming the daily norm.

From cameras to hunting scopes to military-grade night vision goggles, night vision has been beneficial to society as a whole.

They have also been very beneficial to me as a casual nighttime hunter!

What exactly makes them so special?

Main Features

Night vision scopes act like your glasses at night.

These scopes are our eyes at night, but instead of seeing the usual color, we see a green hue.

Ever since I tried night vision for the first time, it was almost like those green night vision scenes from movies!

The only caveat with night vision is it relies on any form of visible light during the night

As a result, poor lighting conditions may weaken or even hinder your night vision capabilities.

If there’s not enough visible light or natural light (e.g., moonlight), it may be challenging to use your night vision scopes for hunting games, especially in absolute darkness.

Additionally, natural elements such as fog, rain, or even snow can even hinder the use of night vision.

However, night vision becomes extremely useful when paired with infrared light, especially an infrared illuminator.

Infrared lighting on your scope is the red light that comes out to help you mark your target.

Yet, getting this tool can be a bit pricey and is not required when hunting.

It helps locate your targeted game but can also scare it away if it’s light-sensitive.

So how does your night vision optic generate an image?

Every device utilizes an image intensifier tube that acts like a vacuum tube to allow the ambient light particles to pass through an ‘objective lens’ and strike a microchannel plate.

Once it strikes this plate, it creates denser electrons and shows an image the human eye can see.

This process makes night vision scopes work well with image intensification technology that converts weak light into light visible to the human eye.

  • Can use infrared light
  • Amplifies available light
  • Image amplification
  • Difficult to use in pitch black or in places with no light. You will need sufficient light
  • Specific natural elements can hinder vision.
  • It can't cover long distances.

What is a Thermal Scope?

Thermal scope

I describe thermal scopes as the new cool kids that every hunter loves.

This kind of imaging is seeing objects or animals’ HEAT signatures through thermal optics.

Furthermore, thermal scopes detect radiation, generating an image we can see through our human eyes.

Any object that emits any form of heat can be seen through a thermal device.

Main Features

Thermal imaging devices can easily detect a live object or animal in the dark so long as it generates heat.

To my surprise, thermal imaging also works even if there is fog or in cold weather!

It was made possible by thermal imaging, which detects temperature and minute differences in radiation to generate a detailed image.

Various colors are used to represent temperature changes.

When you see red, yellow, or orange, it means it generates heat, while cold temperatures are shown as blue colors.

Using a thermal scope during the day is valuable because you can see heat signatures and objects’ temperature differences at great distances.

But be careful when your surroundings are too hot or cold!

Thermal scopes are not helpful in extreme conditions, especially the factors that can contribute to your surroundings, making them either hot or cold.

However, thermal devices are very useful in rain, fog, smoke, dust storms, and sometimes snow, depending on the severity and intensity.

  • Can see live objects or animals at a greater distance
  • Great in weather conditions.
  • Can't see through tall grass, concrete, and walls
  • Impossible to use in extreme cold.

Night Vision vs. Thermal: Performance Breakdown

Night vision vs. thermal

Performance-wise, both night vision and thermal imaging devices are great tools to have in your hunting arsenal.

However, in terms of overall utility, night vision on the paper edges thermal vision.

When we ask our fellow hunters, they prefer more thermal imaging than night vision scopes.

So let’s break it down even further!


Price tag icon

Thermal scopes are more expensive than night vision scopes, hands down.

Newer technology tends to be more expensive than older ones, but this doesn’t mean getting the latest night vision optic will be cheap.

Newer generations of night vision devices can be as expensive as thermal scopes.

Unlike night vision, thermal scopes are advanced tech in the world of rifling. This technology was only recently made, so expect it to be expensive.

However, there may be a shift in price once thermal imaging technology improves in the future.

WINNER: Night Vision

Image Quality

Image icon

Infrared cameras for night vision scopes can generate good images, but they are still pale compared to thermal optics.

A night vision optic needs ambient light to generate a good image. You must provide sufficient visible light whenever you hunt for a game at night.

True enough, without visible light, I had difficulty detecting just with my naked eye.

Using thermal scopes eliminates this problem since image intensification is done by detecting game through the animal’s body temperature.

Doing this increases your detection range as well.

WINNER: Thermal Imaging


Durability icon

Durability is another factor when choosing between night vision and thermal scopes. 

Between the two, both are already durable. I didn’t really see any distinguishable differences.

Over the years, thermal scopes have caught up to night vision scopes where previously night vision had the edge.

So you can check this off your bucket list of things to consider.

WINNER: Thermal Imaging and Night Vision (TIE)

Identifying Game

Hunting Icon

Night vision and thermal imaging scopes help identify the game depending on your situation.

A thermal imaging device is better if you’re going through dark areas. You do not have to rely on any visible light energy to look for your targeted game.

Furthermore, thermal scopes can help you see moving animals in a target area and identify any targeted game at a great distance.

You may ask, how is this possible? 

During the nighttime, animals generate heat from their bodies and appear warmer than their surroundings.

Their heat signature makes them a perfect target for hunters using thermal imaging scopes.

Since they’ll appear as prominent red figures, night hunting will be convenient. 

Moreover, this also makes spotting desired game in some forms of vegetation.

Using a thermal device is an advantage, but what about night vision?

The problem with using night vision scopes is that it’s too dependent on light. Without any light source, you will have a more challenging time seeing.

If it’s too dark, you will need an IR illuminator to generate light for yourself to get a good image.

So, if you plan to use night vision devices, get the most by first identifying your target area.

After spotting the game and identifying the area, switch to a thermal scope to determine their exact positions, and the prize is yours.

WINNER: Thermal Imaging

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Special Forces Use Night Vision or Thermal Imaging?

Special Forces can use both night vision and thermal imaging, depending on the mission at hand.

For example, thermal imaging can be used for larger scales, such as looking at suspicious activity from buildings.

Similarly, they can use night vision to see movement at night.

Is Night Vision or Thermal Imaging Better for Coyote Hunting?

I would rather choose thermal imaging for coyote hunting.

Coyotes, just like any other animal, radiate heat when they move, which makes them easier to spot, whether in the day or night.

If you choose night vision, you may have to be closer to the subject, which is quite dangerous!

Can You See Through Fog or Smoke With Night Vision or Thermal Imaging?

Yes, you can see through smoke and fog, but thermal imaging does it better than night vision.

Your vision using night vision will be limited when smoke or fog obstructs your view.

Similarly, if the fog or smoke is at an intense level, it may be difficult for thermal imaging to pick your

Final Verdict: Which Scope Type is Better?

Man in sights

Night vision devices and thermal scopes both have their benefits and challenges. 

However, thermal scopes are your best friends if you plan to go hunting at night.

It’s EASIER to spot a live animal at great distances because they’re a walking heat source.

This simple advantage makes thermal scopes very popular among hunters.

Meanwhile, night vision scopes are still being used, but they’re now used more to confirm areas of interest and scout out the potential game.

However, night vision devices still give you a good hunting experience if you’re on a budget, but taking down your desired game will be more complicated.


Armed soldier

Buying your first scope can be tricky when you do not know the pros and cons.

Using night vision and thermal imaging devices is a great way to start your journey. But always choose the one that’s best for your hunting needs.

Hopefully, this article helped you make that decision! Now get that scope, and happy hunting!

FINAL TIP: For your convenience, you can choose from any of these night vision scopes to help you out!

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